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Did We Save Bin Laden From a "Fate Worse Than Death"?

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2011-06-17-goodevil20smaller.jpg

The one thing Bin Laden was most afraid of was to become a captive of U.S. solders.

For a long time, Osama must have been thinking about the moment ... when the Americans would come ....

He would be paraded around locked in a small cage like an animal in the zoo -- dragged from his lair, humiliated like Sadam Hussein -- interrogated, tortured, and drugged.

Bin Laden had seen the pictures of the naked prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the electric shock prods, the snarling attack dogs. He heard of what happened to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed ---how KSM had been shackled naked to a cell wall in freezing temperatures, waterboarded 183 times and, with a little chemical help, forced to tell his interrogators everything he possibly could.

Bin Laden's image was everything. His myth and the success of his historic mission rested on the image of martyrdom. A warrior hero fated for a heaven filled with waiting virgins.

He saw himself as a modern day Saladin -- the Arab conqueror who drove the Christian Crusaders out of the Mideast after 300 years of subjugation.

Bin Laden's history is a larger than life story. He was an educated, fabulously wealthy Saudi who gave up everything -- his riches, his comforts -- for the cause of driving the infidels, Christians and Jews, out of Muslim lands. He took to the hills with nothing more than an AK-47 and battled the most powerful nation the world has ever known to a statemate of monumental proportions.

Surely, Bin Laden knew that one day his time would come. There would be the drone of a predator bomb or the buzz of American helicopters coming to take him.

Being killed by a predator missile would not be so bad. To die valiantly fighting the infidels would not be so bad.

Being captured alive and being forced to give up all the Al Qaeda secrets -- to betray the cause of a lifetime -- would be the worst fate of all.

With hindsight wisdom; after the surprise, the chest thumping and the unmitigated jubilation, the entirely justified feeling of revenge, I would argue that that it would have been better and wiser for us and the world -- and worse for Bin Laden and Al Qaeda -- if we hadn't assassinated him so summarily.....

Or at the very least, strongly attempted to capture him.

The question of whether we had the legal and moral right to kill Bin Laden is somewhat murky. This was an enemy who was actively plotting to kill thousands of innocent American civilians. True, at the time, he didn't have a weapon in his hand -- the AK-47 and a pistol were on a shelf behind the three Navy Seals when they entered Bin Laden's bedroom -- but he wasn't exactly waving a white flag either.

Many around the world consider this an elimination by death squad. Bin Laden has been described by others as almost an invalid, an old man, a diabetic, with serious kidney and liver problems. By other accounts OBL could not walk by himself and had to be carried piggy back if no motor or animal transport was available.

The warrior code throughout history has always held that warriors do not kill other warriors who are unarmed and not an immediate threat to them. They take them captive.2011-06-17-warrior20with20SV.jpg

It's hard to second guess that Navy SEAL's decision in such a chaotic and stressful situation. But I am convinced history will reveal that our first goal from on high was a premeditated execution.

But there are four very good reasons, espoused by both liberals and conservatives, why, if at all possible, we should not have killed Bin Laden:

First: Revenge.

Killing was too good for him and his evilness.

I would want him to suffer more for what he did to the thousands of innocents that he murdered. Being locked in a small cell for years on end, and forced to give up his allies and being made to realize that his life's work had failed miserably would have been a far more horrible fate. In retrospect we were intolerably merciful. He got better than he deserved ... a quick death.

Second: Information.

If we had captured him, we would have loosened a torrent of information and invaluable intelligence, betraying his fellow warriors. With the handwritten journal, five computers, 10 hard drives and 110 thumb drives, Bin Laden would have been made to talk. Prisoners all break -- under drugs, sensory deprivation, no sleep, water boarding, relentless interrogation.

Nobody holds out. Only in the movies.

Look at the pictures and the intel that we got from the pitiful, defeated, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Sure, prisoners lie and misdirect with gibberish when they are being tortured -- they say everything and anything that will get the torture to stop. But they also spill many material secrets.

Bin Laden, alive, would have given up critical information that could save American lives and may have prevented future tragedies and innocent civilian deaths.

With the help of the trove of documents and hard drives -- every last corner, every terrorist cell, every bank account, -- would have been penetrated and dismantled in a way that is not possible now. All his benefactors and Al Qaeda supporters in Pakistan would have been exposed, arrested and jailed. As a NYT story noted today, we are not getting the full story from cell phone analysis about Pakistan's protection of Bin Laden. If we had caputured Bin Laden, and his trusted courier, we might now have a clearer picture of OBL's contacts with Pakistan's intelligence agency.

This is the compelling conservative argument. Former Bush legal counsel John Yoo -- best known for his memos legally justifying torture -- said the most reliable information you get is from interrogation. Bin Laden's capture, as opposed to his killing, would have provided invaluable intelligence.

"I am not opposed to shooting people," said Jeffrey H. Smith, a West Point graduate who served as the C.I.A.'s general counsel during the Clinton administration. "But it ought to be a last resort. If they're dead, they're not talking to you, and you create more martyrs."

The U.S. SEALS should also have taken his three wives (which US intelligence has not yet had full access to) and children if possible. They too would have also helped destroy and penetrate every last terrorist cell and sympathizer. Maybe some of the wives would have been all too willing to talk.

Third: History and Education.

Taking Bin Laden alive, keeping him locked up for several years, putting him on trial would have an educational value to all and discourage would-be future terrorists.

This is why we publicly tried the top Nazis after World War II; this is why we tried Sadam Hussein. To help educate the world as to how such horror can exist, and hopefully to be able to recognize and prevent it from happening again. Let Bin Laden, and the rest of the world, hear the statements of the families that he so callously blew to pieces. When Sadam Hussein was tried, and made to listen to the family members of those he gassed to death, it was evidence for all Muslims who had doubts about his mass murders.

Killing Bin Laden was a missed opportunity to prove to the Muslim world that this mythical leader was nothing more than a vicious criminal who slaughtered innocent civilians, against all tenets of his religion.

A humiliating public trial would have robbed him of his martyrdom.

Fourth: Legal and Moral.

While it is difficult to raise ethical and legal questions about the demise of such a despised and odious murderer, taking him alive would have shown the world that we are not like them. "That is not who we are," as President Obama said about his decision to not release the death photos.
Americans do not execute without a trial. Our Ku Klux Klan days are over. We will not tolerate KKK behavior even with the most heinous of crimes. If Hitler had been found alive, he would have had a trial at the Nuremberg War Crimes Court. Bin Laden deserves the same.

"The Nazis killed tens of MILLIONS. They got a fair trial. Why? Because we're not like them. We're Americans. We roll different." Michael Moore said.

Even conservatives such as Ron Paul both agree that assassination was a mistake.

"I think things could have been done somewhat differently," Ron Paul said announcing his campaign for President in New Hampshire. "I would suggest they should have captured him like Khalid Sheikh."

"The rule of law, world law and international law must have been respected." Paul said.

He has a point. Article 23b of the Hague Regulations, signed by the U.S. and other nations in 1907, prohibits "assassination, proscription, or outlawry of an enemy, or putting a price upon an enemy's head, as well as offering a reward for an enemy 'dead or alive'.

In 1975, after the C.I.A. efforts to assassinate Fidel Castro and other foreign leaders, a Senate committee headed by Frank Church concluded that such plotting "violates moral precepts fundamental to our way of life. . . . We reject absolutely any notion that the United States should justify its actions by the standards of totalitarians. . . . Of course, we must defend our democracy. But in defending it, we must resist undermining the very virtues we are defending."

The following year, President Gerald Ford signed an executive order banning political assassination. It was later expanded by President Carter and President Reagan and that order remains in force.

jfleetwood@aol.com